April’s a big month for birthdays on Dunreith’s side of the family.
A really big month.
We’re talking close to a dozen uncles, aunts, in-laws and parents who came into this world one April or another.
My late father-in-law Marty’s birthday was on the 4th.
Our nephew Jacob is on the 18th.
Shaun, Dunreith’s brother was born on April 25.
And today would have been my mother-in-law Helen’s 81st birthday, or, as she would probably have said, the beginning of her 82nd year.
The invasive and oppressive meddling of mother-in-laws convinced that their child’s spouse is not good enough for his or her daughter has been the subject of movies-see Monster in Law with Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez who vie for Michael Vartan’s attention-and derisive terms like “smother-in-law.”
Helen did none of that.
Aidan once called her the perfect grandmother, and she was certainly the same as Dunreith’s mother.
She supported, love and nurtured our family and me in so many ways.
The most basic for me was her giving birth to and raising Dunreith to be her own person, a strong, self-respecting and highly intelligent woman who had been taught to believe that her voice mattered.
Helen and Marty gave us the space to develop our own lives, but she was always there whenever we needed help.
To this day, I’m not sure if we would have ever gotten out of our apartment in Easthampton had she not spent 12-hour day after 12-hour day sifting through the mountain of clothes, books and furniture we had accumulated, but never quite discarded when I moved out there from Eastern Massachusetts.
Helen’s respectful nature, prodigious work ethic and tremendous sense of occasion converged during the preparations for our wedding at Look Park.
She let us make all the arrangements, and stayed out until we asked for her help with a little less than three days to go.
To this day I have never seen one person accomplish more in such a short time as Helen did.
Nothing was going to stop her from making her only daughter’s day as beautiful as possible.
This included singing the tune of “Here Comes the Bride” as she and Marty walked Dunreith down the aisle in her bright red sleeveless dress.
Yet as meaningful as these public experiences were, I’ll also remember the private moments we shared.
I’ll think of the morning phone calls where we’d chat about what we were both planning to do after chanting “Num-ber One” to each other a few times to signal our Mutual Appreciation Society.
I’ll remember her refined elegance, the joy in her voice when she talked during the last year of her life about spending time with Lucy-”Just delightful,” she would say, enunciating every word-and the constant curiosity and sense of wonder she brought to everything she did.
I’ll think of how she cupped her hand and used her strong fingers to extract and savor every morsel of the lobster we ate in Rockport.
I’ll appreciate how she never forgot what it was like to grow up in a cold water flat, and, because of that, never ceased giving without expectation to those she loved or appreciating what she had made of herself.
I’ll smile when I think of her weekly adventures in hair cutting with Angel, how she’d try anything he suggested at least once.
I’ll think about how much her friends loved her.
On days like this, and others, the memories of these times sneak up from my heart to my throat in a grief comes in waves, reminding me again of the permanence of irretrievable loss.
Helen was a treasure, and I’m grateful beyond what I can express for all that I had the privilege to experience with her, and remember.
Happy Birthday, Helen.
I love and miss you very much.